When she was just 21, Brenda went to prison after she badly hurt another girl
while defending her sister from an attack in a nightclub. She’d never
been in trouble before, and the experience of being sentenced to two and a half years in prison shocked her profoundly.
“I was scared and panicked. I cried until I couldn’t breathe,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t count for anything any more. It felt like my life was over. I was just done. Finished. Any plans I’d ever had were a blur.”
When I found Working Chance, it took me a while to pluck up the courage to come in. But they understand what it’s like to go to prison and to come out and feel like you are a nobody. They support you through that.
Brenda, now a smiling, energetic 29 year old who is bursting with positivity, had begun training as a childminder at the point when she was charged. She had high hopes that it would lead to running her own childcare business and becoming financially independent. But after her conviction, she lost hope that anyone would ever trust her to work with young children. During her term in jail, which she describes as “intimidating at times – it was like you had no power over your life at all, and no choices,” she refocused her interest towards youth work.
Brenda credits her Working Chance recruitment consultant, Caryn, for the constant support that has enabled her to secure first a job.
Brenda served 11 months of her sentence before being released to serve a further five months with a tag. On release, she contacted the director of a charity supporting young people whom she had known before she was convicted. Welcomed as a volunteer, Brenda says the charity had no issue with her having a criminal record, and she even managed to secure a fixed term paid contract as a mentor – work that she loved. But there was no long-term role available, and Brenda was struggling with her self-confidence. At first when she went to the Jobcentre, she says she was “scared to tell them about my conviction.”
When she did finally disclose, her Jobcentre adviser insisted that there was no reason employers shouldn’t consider her. But Brenda's experience of applying for the jobs was the exact opposite, and for several years she drifted, losing hope that she would ever get a decent job, let alone a satisfying career.
One of the company’s executives saw her talent firsthand after he was introduced to her by Working Chance. “I had an interview with him and he just said ‘tell me what the conviction was for – I just want to find out what happened.’”
“I literally Googled ‘ex offender support’ I was so desperate,” she
laughs. “And when I found Working Chance, it took me a while to pluck up
the courage to come in. But they understand what it’s like to go to prison and to come out and feel like you are a nobody. They support you through that."
Brenda credits her Working Chance recruitment
consultant, Caryn, for the constant support that has enabled her to secure
first a job with Pret A Manger and then a role as a cashier with
a major national employer. To be trusted to handle money as an 'ex-offender' she smiles, was a measure of how far she’d
The journey hasn’t been without bumps in the road: she went for a job in youth work that she “really, really wanted” she explains, but didn’t get it. However, soon after, one of the company’s executives saw her talent firsthand after he was introduced to her by Working Chance. “I had an interview with him and he just said ‘tell me what the conviction was for – I just want to find out what happened’” she remembers.
It’s important to realise that you don’t have to be treated as a criminal for the rest of your life.
That was three years ago. Brenda was promoted to manager there, and
after a while Working Chance helped her to progress to a new job in her
ideal industry, the creative sector. She’s now delighted to be working
for a London theatre.
Brenda has gained confidence beyond the workplace too. While in jail, she began writing down her frustrations and feelings in a notebook, page after page, every day; it’s experience that she now draws on in her “Unchained” spoken word work. She also hopes to run poetry workshops for other young creative writers in the future.
“I do feel like I’m starting to believe more in my potential,” she says. “Everything I do now is to build my career, and get Unchained out there, and help others.” Her ultimate goal is to mentor ex-offenders. “I can’t change my past,” she says, “but that’s why I do everything I can now to help young people through their writing, in hope of them becoming 'unchained' by sharing their stories. It’s important to realise that you don’t have to be treated as a criminal for the rest of your life.”